Throughout the months of the fierce resistance to Russia’s invasion, Ukraine has captivated the world. The bravery and tenacity Ukraine has displayed, and its success against an aggressor with four times its population and over 18 times its GDP is almost miraculous. Why do the Ukrainians fight with such commitment? And why did Putin and his myrmidons attack Ukraine to begin with? I will suggest here that the past is indeed prologue, that is, that the past explains the present.
Specifically, I want to discuss the travails of Ukraine, and why its painful past informs its present struggle. I have a convenient source — a classic documentary from the later Cold War era, Harvest of Despair (1985) (hereafter “HOD”). A discussion of the film will allow me to examine, simultaneously, the modern history of Ukraine and the crucial role truth plays in evaluating propaganda.
Let’s start by looking at the film. It opens with an elaborate Soviet parade, with Stalin waving as enormous pictures of Lenin and himself are carried by, and people are parading in various costumes, some dressed as airplanes or parts of tanks. The narrator says, “The year: 1933. The place: The Soviet Union. Behind the façade, food is being used as a weapon against people who have proven troublesome to Moscow.” As we cut to a map, the narrator adds that famine was deliberately inflicted upon the North Caucuses, the Volga Basin, and Ukraine. As we see a closeup of the map, the narrator says that Ukraine’s borders were sealed off by the Soviet secret police so that no people could get out and no food could get in. “A nation the size of France is strangled by hunger.” As we see pictures of peasants dressed in rags, we learn that in less than two years, 10 million people died, 70% of whom were Ukrainian, and 30% of whom were children.
The bravery and tenacity Ukraine has displayed, and its success against an aggressor with four times its population and over 18 times its GDP is almost miraculous.
An elderly Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990), renowned British journalist, appears on screen. He reported on the events at the time, and tells us they were the most terrible thing he had ever seen, because of the cold, completely pitiless calculation with which it was done. We hear from Johan Von Herwarth, the retired former German attaché in Moscow, who tells us that he cannot forget the horrible pictures he saw and the terrible reports he read. We hear also from two survivors — Motria Dutka and Lubov Drashevska — who say they saw villagers and peasants dying. Here the screen shows us the term for this genocide: the Holodomor (“death by hunger”).
The title appears: “Harvest of Despair: Holodomor: The Ukrainian Genocide,” and we get into the body of the film.
As we see a pile of skeletal bodies, we are told that the 1917 Russian Revolution was a time of hope. The Tsarist Empire crumbles, and nations and peoples long dominated by Russia have a chance to gain their freedom. The Ukrainians have a chance to gain their nationhood, with Kiev becoming a seat of government, after two centuries of Russian domination. Ukraine’s almost uniquely fertile land has supplied Europeans with grain for uncounted generations — back to ancient Greece.
As we see Ukrainian soldiers marching, we’re told that Ukraine has learned from bitter history that freedom comes at a price. And Lenin, having established Bolshevik control over Russia, now wants its empire back. In the next four years, Ukrainians have to battle Lenin’s Red Army, Deniken’s White (Tsarist) Army, the Germans, and the Poles. Whether the armies appear as enemies or as allies, they always take tons of grain. “This bountiful country is slowly bled dry.” When this period of war ends in 1921, Russia had conquered most of Ukraine, while the rest — mainly, Western Ukraine — was divided between Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania. The Bolsheviks seize more and more grain to feed Moscow. This, combined with a drought, brings on the first famine Ukraine ever experienced. We see emaciated children sharing soup, but this is only a preview of a much worse tragedy.
As we see pictures of peasants dressed in rags, we learn that in less than two years, 10 million people died, 70% of whom were Ukrainian, and 30% of whom were children.
Rising opposition to the Bolsheviks made Lenin change course. Under his “New Economic Policy,” grain seizures were ended and farmers were allowed to trade freely again. This led to an immediate Ukrainian economic rebound, since 80% of Ukrainians were farmers. Lenin also allowed some nationalism to grow. However, as Ukrainian journalist Ivan Majstrenko notes, the Politburo discovered that this had led to Ukrainian becoming again the language of instruction in Ukrainian schools, with Russian treated as a foreign language like French or German. This news aroused Stalin’s paranoiac fear of the breakup of the USSR. (Stalin had taken command of the Soviet Union, after Lenin’s death in 1924). A separate language would inevitably arouse the desire to become independent.
The narrator notes that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — for the first time since the 17th century — moved to separate itself from the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a cultural flourishing, but the new Ukrainian artists, writers, and poets sought to emulate Western, not Russian role models. The leader of the Ukrainian writers, while a communist, adopted the slogan “Away from Moscow!” Historian James Mace points out that the head of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Mykola Skrypnyk, felt that the USSR should be like a league of communist nations. He went on to demand from Moscow greater authority for Ukraine, and the annexation to Ukraine of borderlands where Ukrainian was the dominant language.
But here the narrator reminds us that by 1928, Stalin had become “a law unto himself.” He had eliminated all opposition to his power inside the Politburo, and in the face of the fact that the worldwide workers’ revolution never occurred, Stalin was determined to increase communism with the border of the USSR and infuse it with Russian nationalism. Stalin will no longer put up with Ukrainian cultural independence.
So starting in 1929, Stalin targeted the Ukrainian Church and the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Five thousand Ukrainian scholars were rounded up and sent to prisons and later executed. Only 45 received trials. All were accused of plotting an armed rebellion. For the next few years, the arrests continued, including those of Ukrainian Orthodox priests. Olexander Bykovetz, a survivor of this communist pogrom of Ukrainian clergy, recalled that thousands of priests — including his father — were sent to gulag camps and martyred. This included thirty bishops. Thousands of parishioners were also arrested and wound up in the camp system, usually to be liquidated. Two other survivors tell us about being arrested from church and abused, and having their church destroyed. By 1930, the only church that remained was the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ukraine has learned from bitter history that freedom comes at a price.
In 1928 Stalin adopted an ambitious five-year plan, aimed at turning the backwater, rural Soviet economy into a modern, industrial empire — with military defense taking priority. To pay for importing all the Western technology and equipment the new economy would need, Stalin needed to export something of value. This (at the time) could only be grain. So Stalin collectivized agriculture — all farm land, equipment, and animals became the property of the state, and farmers were to be paid like workers in a factory. We see footage of those collective farming operations. Political scientist Robert Sullivant observes that in the Ukraine of this time there was a unique demographic: the rural peasant farmers were predominantly ethnically Ukrainian, whereas the city dwellers — especially in the East — were in great part ethnically Russian or Jewish. This focused the effects of collectivization directly on the ethnic Ukrainian community.
Stalin anticipated resistance, so he targeted those he believed would lead the resistance: “kulaks,” farmers who owned 24 acres of land or employed workers. They were declared enemies of the people, and Stalin called for their “liquidation” as a class. Besides seizing their lands, the Soviet authorities confiscated all the kulaks’ possessions. It was against the law to help any of them. Witness Myroslava Utka recalls the Soviet authorities kicking her and the rest of her family out of their house. The narrator adds that over the next three years, one million of these Ukrainian farmers were rounded up and shipped off to the remote parts of the Soviet Union. Those who survived the journey worked as slave labor.
We hear from several other witnesses. Lev Kopelev was an activist who helped bully people out of their homes. Petro Grigorenko, who later became a general in the Soviet army, was a student brought in to help harvest the crops. He saw the resistance firsthand, with farmers sabotaging work or taking back their property. Armed troops came in and shot at — or just shot — any of the resisters. Vasyl Sokil recalled seeing a group of the secret police (the GPU) surround a resister’s house. When the poor farmer ran out of ammunition, they threw in a hand grenade.
The narrator notes that the farmers faced taxes beyond what they were able to produce. They could join the collective (where taxes were lower) or face deportation as kulaks. By mid-1932, three-fourths of all farmers in the Ukraine were collectivized. In August 1932, the crippling quotas were imposed on the collective farms, too. Then another quota was imposed. The eyewitness Motria Dutka adds that while workers were given ration cards entitling them to get a certain amount of food per week, the peasants got nothing. They are soon reduced to starvation. The narrator notes that in 1932, the harvest was big enough to feed the whole Ukrainian population for two years. But the Soviets took all the wheat and dumped it on Western markets. Petro Grigorenko reports that the order to starve the peasants was orally given by Stalin. Grigorenko knew there was a definite plan because he was given instructions by Stanislav Kosion, a major official of the Ukrainian Communist Party. Dutka adds that at this point, groups of Russian Communist activists went from farmhouse to farmhouse, stealing all the food they could find.
Stalin anticipated resistance, so he targeted those he believed would lead the resistance: “kulaks,” who were declared enemies of the people, and designated for their “liquidation” as a class.
The narrator tells us (as we see scenes of peasants milling about) that in 1931, farmers were crowding into cities selling their heirlooms to buy some food, but the Soviet government soon instituted an internal passport system which confined them to their villages. In 1932, the Ukrainian Communist Party requested the government to lower the grain quotas, but Stalin refused. He sent a trusted envoy with 112,000 devout party members. The Ukrainian Communist Party was purged, all the grain was taken, and anyone taking food from the fields faced execution. Vasyl Sokil recalls that if a child picked up some grains of wheat from a field, it was committing a severe crime.
The narrator explains that besides sending Moscow their quotas of grain, the collective farms had to put aside some for seed and livestock. So 80% of the collectives couldn’t pay their workers at all, and those workers were forbidden to seek work elsewhere. Starving village mothers would throw their children onto citybound trains, hoping that someone would feed them. Eyewitness Lubov Drashevska recalls entering railway cars full of starving children. Josyp Hirniak recalls seeing people waiting at night in lines in front of bread stores, starving women dressed in rags, homeless children roaming the streets, and dead bodies everywhere. Olha Mak remembers seeing thousands of people queued up outside bread shops. Again we see the emaciated bodies of starved children. Andor Hencke, German Counsel in Kiev, and his family witnessed the horrors firsthand. His wife shows us pictures she took of the corpses; her son recounts his memories of seeing the streets littered with bodies (again we see graphic pictures of corpses). Four other witnesses describe carts pulling through towns, collecting dead bodies. We see more of the ghastly pictures of carts full of corpses, and corpses being put into pits.
But as the narrator tells us, while offers of help came in from at least seven other countries, the Soviet Red Cross denied that there was any famine, and shipments of food never got across Soviet borders.
By the spring of 1933, 25,000 people a day were dying. Witness Fedir Weretenko reports that the Soviet government tried to tell people that the famine was from natural causes, but nobody believed it — everyone knew that the grain was being held in government warehouses. People were reduced to eating dogs, and leaves off bushes. Witnesses Myroslava Utka and Ivan Majstrenko add that not a few people resorted to cannibalism. The narrator adds that “a directive issued by the Justice Department ensured that no official records of cannibalism are kept. All such cases are withdrawn from the courts, and dealt with behind the closed doors of the OGPU secret police.” The directive is shown onscreen, dated May 22, 1933.
The documentary now shifts from the Soviet Union’s genocide of a quarter of the Ukrainian people to the (mainly successful) coverup of that genocide.
Starving village mothers would throw their children onto citybound trains, hoping that someone would feed them.
We begin with the narrator reporting that at a London grain conference, the Soviets pushed successfully to get their export quotas raised from 25 million to 85 million bushels of wheat. Western socialist sympathizers rallied to Moscow’s defense. These included George Bernard Shaw, part of a group of socialist leaders visiting Moscow, who reported that the food in restaurants was abundant (as we see in the film). Another “useful idiot” given a propaganda tour was the former French prime minister Edouard Herriot. Herriot is shown telling the press how favorably impressed he was by his Potemkin visit to Ukraine. Johann von Herwarth, who at the time was an attaché at the German Embassy in Moscow, tells us in detail how the Soviets “stage-managed” Herriot’s tour.
The narrator reports that the Soviet Union’s state-owned film industry cranked out movies portraying peasant life as simply heavenly. He also reports that the Stalin regime put on a show-trial of six British engineers on bogus charges of sabotage, espionage, and bribery. The charade served two purposes. Domestically, it took the public’s eyes off the widespread food shortages and general economic misery. Internationally, foreign correspondents were told that if they wanted to cover the trial, they couldn’t mention the famine. (The British spy-saboteurs were eventually released.)
We hear again from the estimable Malcolm Muggeridge, who arrived in the USSR in 1932, and defied the travel ban to look at was happening in the villages for himself. He tells us how the Soviets controlled what foreign journalists could send out to their papers — the regime controlled the telegraph and phone companies. Muggeridge sent his stories out by diplomatic courier bags, and made sure that he was out of the country when they appeared. He was clearly a journalist who valued telling the truth over currying favor with a dictatorial regime.
However, as the narrator puts it, “For every article thon the famine that appeared, there were two published denying its existence.” A journalist who cared not at all about the truth was the despicable Walter Duranty (1884–1957). Duranty was the Moscow correspondent for The New York Times, and he wrote articles completely denying the existence of a famine. For his articles on Russia, he won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize.
Muggeridge was blunt in his assessment of Duranty: “He was the greatest liar of any journalist that I’ve ever met in 50 years of journalism.” Muggeridge adds that most of the other journalists suspected that the Soviets had some hold over Duranty “because he so utterly played their game.”
The Soviets controlled what foreign journalists could send out to their papers — the regime controlled the telegraph and phone companies.
Ironically, even while Duranty was denying that there was any famine, the narrator adds, “In private conversations at the British Embassy Duranty said that as many as ten million people had died.” Muggeridge observes that Duranty’s articles were a big part of the reason the US recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, and why it was admitted to the League of Nations in 1934.
Johann von Herwarth adds that although the Weimar regime in Germany was well aware of the Holodomor, it wanted trade with the Soviet Union. The narrator concludes that trade considerations led all Western European governments to “make their peace with genocide.”
Appalled by what had been done to people in Ukraine, Communist writer Mykola Khvylovyj and the Ukrainian Communist party leader Mykola Skrypnyk committed suicide. Lev Kopelev tells us “ . . . these suicides came to symbolically represent the end of an epoch in the history of Ukraine. Up to that time we believed that a normal national development was possible, as they taught us: a culture socialist in content and national in form.”
The narrator sketches the end of the Holodomor. In late 1933, Stalin ended the famine with a single decree allowing collective farmers to keep some food. But in 1934, he conducted purges: 27,000 Ukrainian communists were arrested and replaced by Russians. Rule over Ukraine was taken out of Ukrainian hands. Two hundred twenty-three out of 259 Ukrainian writers were killed by the Soviets, and “Ukrainian nationalism” became a capital offense. While we hear this, we see men being executed by firing squad. At this point, the Soviets made Kiev the capital of Ukraine, because the problem of Ukrainian nationalism had been solved — Ukraine had been Russified.
The narrator concludes by noting that the purges come to an end only when Germany invaded Ukraine in 1941: “Millions perish as Hitler attempts to replace Stalin’s shackles with his own.” The Nazis attempted to divert attention from their own brutalities by inviting an international commission to inspect the graves from Stalin’s rule. In the town of Vynnytsia alone, the remains of over 9,000 murdered citizens were unearthed. “Ukraine’s only crime was that she never adapted to wearing chains. The Soviet Union denies to this day the famine ever took place.”
The film was fairly clearly propaganda, putting forward the message that the Ukrainians deserved their own nation.
We could add that to this day, Russia has continued to deny that the famine ever took place.
HOD won numerous prizes when it was aired, most notably an Academy Award nomination. However, to say that the film was controversial is a considerable understatement. It was released in the period of dénouement of the Cold War, when Ronald Reagan faced a Soviet Union that had a powerful propaganda machine and still had numerous allies in Western media. And the film was fairly clearly propaganda, putting forward the message that the Ukrainians deserved their own nation.
In fact, there was initially a reluctance to release the film commercially in the US. It was first aired on conservative journalist William F. Buckley’s TV show Firing Line on September 28, 1986. The show opened with the playing of the documentary, followed by a panel discussion between Buckley, historian Robert Conquest, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Harrison Salisbury, and writer Christopher Hitchens. Conquest had himself just written a book on the Holodomor that year — Harvest of Sorrow — and Salisbury was The New York Times Moscow correspondent for many years (though not during the period of the Holodomor itself — he was only in his early 20s then). It was an interesting discussion.
In a theory of propaganda I have elaborated elsewhere, I suggest that there are six criteria for evaluating propaganda for rationality (as opposed to deceitfulness). First, the message should be based on evidence. Second, that evidence should be factually accurate or true. Third, the evidence should support the message logically. Fourth, the message should be transparent — the target audience should be aware it is being pitched propaganda. Fifth, the message should be targeted at mentally competent adults. Sixth, the message should not involve coercion. But for most people, the key criterion in judging propaganda is simply whether it is truthful. And the main question that Buckley chose to put to the others was whether the film was factually inaccurate or untruthful in any way. The panel raised the following points.
- Salisbury suggested that HOD did not point out that the famine of 1932–1933 affected more than just the Ukraine, but the North Caucuses and the Volga basin, hence affected Tatars, Jews, Russians, and other ethnic groups besides Ukrainians. Buckley replied that from this point of view, any Holocaust documentary should mention the other groups killed in the Nazi camps besides the Jews (such as Roma, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on). Hitchens added that Ukrainians have a right to point to their own specific victimization, just as Jews do.
- Salisbury also suggested that what HOD did was a mishmash of pictures that appeared to be from different areas (Ukraine, North Caucuses, and Volga regions) and different times (there had been a famine in the Soviet Union earlier, in 1921), but agreed with Conquest that it overall gave a true picture of the events.
- Hitchens made the criticism that HOD failed to mention that many Ukrainians joined the Nazis during this period, many serving with the Waffen SS. (This is an often heard accusation, i.e., that Ukrainians are or were sympathetic to the Nazis. For example, Putin used it as one of his justifications for his invasion — he said he needed to liberate the people from a neo-Nazi regime. It was a strange charge, given that Ukraine is the only country besides Israel to have a democratically elected Jewish president.) One TV reviewer said that it sounded as if Hitchens were saying that the Ukrainians deserved what they got. Conquest immediately replied that first, most countries conquered by the Nazis had collaborators; second, when initially invaded, many Ukrainians — including some Jewish Ukrainians — were attracted to what seemed to be possible liberators from the Stalinist Hell, but quickly realized what the Nazis were about; third, Israel put the number of Ukrainian war criminals at 11,000, which is a miniscule percentage of the 40 million Ukrainians alive at the time. I would add that Hitler only took power in the year of the peak of the Holodomor (1933) and did not invade Russia until 1941.
- Salisbury objected that HOD suggests that because Walter Duranty, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times, didn’t report the famine, nobody believed or heard of it. Salisbury admitted that Duranty was a completely cynical man, but said that the story was fairly widely reported in Britain, America, and Germany. Conquest replied that the point is that Duranty and some other big names in journalism didn’t just fail to report the story, they called reports of the famine lies. The result was that the issue became confused in the public’s eyes and soon forgotten.
After HOD aired, the Soviet propaganda machine immediately went into total destruction mode, virulently attacking first the film and then Conquest’s book. For example, in a piece published in Challenge-Desafio (the newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party), HOD was called a “fraud” made by anti-Communist Ukrainian nationalists, with deceptive photos and citing Nazi sympathizers. (It was an odd claim to make in 1985 that there were still Nazi sympathizers in the West.) Specifically, the article claims that many of the photos of people starving were from the 1921 Volga famine. And it says that none of the photos in HOD are sourced, and one apparent source was discredited. Similar charges were soon made in a screed by Douglas Tottle.
But all of this brouhaha faded away within a few years — because the Soviet Union itself faded away. It started to unravel in 1988 and finally collapsed in 1991. The issue of Ukrainian separation was seemingly settled in 1990 when Ukraine became independent.
After Harvest of Despair aired, the Soviet propaganda machine immediately went into total destruction mode, virulently attacking the film.
For 24 years, Ukraine was able to enjoy its rightful place as an independent country, although it struggled with corruption and other problems. But in 2014 the Russo-Ukrainian war started when Putin — viewing himself as a new Stalin or Peter the Great — took over Crimea and staged an uprising in the Donbas region. In February of 2022 he mounted a full-scale invasion of the country.
With the start of the contemporary full-scale war, the history of the Holodomor has been remembered. There are at least six well-researched documentaries about the Ukrainian genocide:
- Ukraine Today documentary: Ukraine’s Holodomor suffering and Soviet “death by hunger” policy (2015) (46 mins).
- Roman Kononenko: Holodomor: Stalin’s Secret Genocide (2016) (15 mins).
- FLOW: Holodomor: The Denied Memory (2017) (78 mins).
- Ukrainer (Museum of the Holodomor): What is the Holodomor? (2020) (12 mins).
- Casual Historian: Conspiracy of Silence: Covering up the Holodomor (2020) (143 mins).
- VOX: How Stalin starved Ukraine (2022) (15 mins.).
Of these, in my view the most concise and clear is the VOX documentary.
But this leads to an important point about doing rational propaganda: truth is a necessary requirement; the first thing that people look for is the truth of the message. If indeed HOD used (for example) pictures of the 1921 famine in the discussion of the Holodomor — mind, I do not say that it did — it would be to that degree deceptive.
Of special importance is the recent work of Anne Applebaum, Red Famine. Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written extensively on Russian and Central European history. She was able to do something Robert Conquest couldn’t do when he was researching his book 36 years ago: examine Soviet archives with records of the period. Her book won both the Lionel Gelber Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize.
What the historians and journalists have converged upon is reasonably close to the original account in HOD. The deliberate choice of Stalin to collectivize the farms (starting in 1929) led to a wide famine across the Ukraine and adjacent regions of the USSR. The failure of collectivization was exacerbated by the fact that the kulaks — the relatively more successful farmers — were deliberately targeted for killing, which removed from the pool of farmers the most skillful. I would add that it was also exacerbated by the fact that Stalin elevated a rank pseudoscientist, Trofim Lysenko, to head all agricultural research in the Soviet Union.
Estimates vary as to the death toll: from perhaps four million to seven or even ten million, with more recent estimates placing it at the lower end of that scale. But there is convergence upon the belief that while many other people (Russians, Cossacks, and so on) died in the horrible episode, most of the victims were Ukrainian, because Stalin wanted to extinguish any spark of Ukrainian independence. Here I think Applebaum makes an apt comparison of the Red Famine with the Holocaust. After all, there is confusion about the Holocaust — does it refer to the 11 million people the Nazi Regime slaughtered, or the six million Jews murdered? My personal way of putting the matter is this: the Holocaust was the massive killing of people targeted by the Nazis: Jews, Roma, Russian POWs, Poles, gays, disabled, and so on. The Shoah was the specific — and far more thorough — murdering of the Jews. The Jews were disproportionately the victims, precisely because the Nazis focused on the destruction of the entire Jewish people. Indeed, Nazi ideology was premised on the idea that Jews constituted a special danger to the German people.
So we might call the deliberate mass starvation of people — in order to collectivize their farms and steal the grain — “the Stalinist Famine,” and reserve the term “Holodomor” for the specific targeting of the Ukrainians to extinguish their existence as a distinct people. Thus, the Holodomor, like the Shoah, was a paradigm case of genocide. It is important to note that Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “Genocide,” applied the term explicitly to the case of the Ukrainians under Stalin in 1932–1933.
The Holodomor is I think both the explanation of why the Ukrainians are fighting so bravely, and why Putin has so savagely released his wannabe Waffen-SS upon them. The Ukrainians know that Putin — Stalin’s mini-me — wants what Stalin wanted: Ukraine sans Ukrainians. He wants the land — that incredibly rich land — with those stubbornly independent people now on it eliminated or neutralized. By “neutralized” I mean neutered as a nation — deprived of their religion, their language, their unique culture, and their desires to be Western and European. That this is Putin’s real goal seems clear, when you see his forces targeting schools, maternity hospitals, and people’s homes. His goal seems clear when you see the bodies of civilians with their hands bound and their heads blown off by his forces. His goal is clear, when he deports native Ukrainians from conquered regions to Siberia. His goal is clear, when he brings in Russian teachers to replace the Ukrainian teachers (many of them among the deportees to Siberia). This is richly ironic, since one of Putin’s and his supporters’ disingenuous complaints justifying his invasion was that the Ukrainian government was teaching Ukrainian in regions where people widely spoke Russian. The Ukrainians, of course, had every right to teach Ukrainian in Ukrainian schools — as the United States requires English in American schools, Russia requires Russian in Russian schools, and Mexico requires Spanish in Mexican schools. The Ukrainians were not attempting to stop people from speaking Russian — they were just getting all children to learn the national language — as the US doesn’t stop people from speaking Spanish, but merely requires that all children learn English in school. Putin acknowledges his big lie here when after invading Ukraine he replaced Ukrainian teachers with Russian ones. However, there is a problem with that move that is obvious to all but the completely morally obtuse: he never had the right to invade another country.
While many other people died in the horrible episode, most of the victims were Ukrainian, because Stalin wanted to extinguish any spark of Ukrainian independence.
Again, that Putin’s goal is the elimination of Ukraine as a nation and a people seems clear when we hear the calls intercepted by Western intelligence agencies with his troops bragging about raping and torturing Ukrainian civilians — war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere so amply documented by almost every independent news organization in the world. These crimes are so widely documented that Putin has surely heard them — indeed, he has his foreign minister and other officials routinely deny them. But he has done nothing whatsoever to punish or curtail any of the troops who have been engaging in these crimes.
Finally, Putin’s goal seems clear when you hear him tell his people that historically, Ukraine was never a separate nation. As Putin recently expressed it, “Ukraine has never had its own authentic statehood. There has never been a sustainable statehood in Ukraine.” As Big Lies go, this is a whopper. When he originally started the war in 2014, Ukraine was a world-recognized independent nation — that made it authentic. Hell, it was authentic when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and Ukraine immediately formally changed its name in the UN from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to simply Ukraine (it had been a member of the UN since 1945). As to sustainability, that’s the biggest lie of all. In 2014, by ridding itself of a quisling leader who broke his promise to align the country with Europe, and openly seeking EU membership, Ukraine was immediately sustainable: with 40 million people, rich land, and abundant resources, and a hardworking populace. As a democratic state within the EU, it would have seen its economy grow, as the economies of the Baltic states and Poland have. But it was precisely the vision of a prosperous, independent, and proud democracy right next to his miserable dictatorship that Putin could not stomach.
We are all witnesses to an attempt at genocide — if we care to keep our eyes open this time, and not willfully close them à la Duranty and the NYT.
* * *
 Harvest of Despair: The Unknown Holocaust, director: Slavko Nowytski; producers: Yurij Luhovy, Slavko Nowytski; production company: the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (55 mins) (1985). The DVD is available from the ever-useful International Historic Films, P.O. Box 5796, Chicago, IL 60680, as well as on YouTube.
 These included First Prize at the Houston International Film Festival, First Prize Gold Medal at the International Film and T.V. Festival of New York; the Chris Statuette Award at the Columbus International Film Festival, the Golden Sheaf Award for Best Musical Score and the Special Jury Award from the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival.
 Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 412. This book won both the Antonovych Prize (in 1987) and the Shevchenko National Prize (in 1994).
 Gary Jason, The Critical Thinking Book (Toronto: Broadview Press, 2022). See chapters 17 and 18.
 John Corry, “TV review; ‘Firing Line’ discussion on ‘Harvest of Despair’,” New York Times, September 24, 1986, Section C, 26.
 Conquest could have mentioned famous journalist Eugene Lyons. Lyons later admitted guilt, saying for example, that “throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes — but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials.” However, Duranty never admitted lying or ever expressed guilt for covering up the deliberate mass starvation.
 Douglas Tottle, Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard (Toronto: Progress Books, 1987).
 Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (London: Allen Lane Publishing, 2017).
 Ironically, that highest figure was Duranty’s own estimate, mentioned above.